Amazing Students

Joshua Williams

Joshua Williams stands in front of the Arch on North Campus.
Joshua Williams is on a path to earn four degrees at UGA. (Chad Osburn/UGA)

A student in the Double Dawgs program, Joshua Williams is finishing up the requirements for a master’s degree in communication studies. He followed two older sisters to the University of Georgia. When it came to pick a major, he was inspired by his sisters and his hardworking single mother to major in women’s studies. Next up, he’ll pursue a Ph.D. to “foster the next generation of interdisciplinary scholars.”

Norcross, GA

Degree objective:
M.A. in Communication Studies

Expected graduation:
May 2022

Other degrees:
B.A. in Philosophy
B.A. in Comparative Literature and Intercultural Studies
B.A. in Women’s Studies

Current employment:
Graduate teaching assistant

How did you decide to come to UGA?
Both of my older sisters, Esther and Andrea, graduated from UGA with bachelor’s degrees in health promotion. As I entered high school, I set an expectation for myself—get into UGA! I began taking school seriously after seeing academics become both a means of expression and progress for my sisters. As first-generation students, my sisters were driven by UGA’s rigor, immense resources and prestige. However, the one aspect that undoubtedly drove them the most was this nearly inexplicable sense of belonging. Admittedly, this was something I never knew I craved until I matriculated here. The feeling of being a Dawg—a feeling I experienced vicariously through my sisters—was a feeling I just had to experience for myself.

How did you choose your major?
After getting accepted into UGA, I was absolutely clueless about what I wanted to study. Because of this, I decided to register for courses that either interested me or stuck out to me such as Intro to Philosophy, Multicultural Perspectives in Women’s Studies, and Black Diaspora Literature. What I did not know while taking those three courses is that they would be instrumental in deciding the three majors I would eventually adopt. Philosophy, women’s studies, and comparative literature, like almost any major at UGA, all encouraged me to critically think but I specifically found that these majors proved to me that there is a space for examining social issues in the classroom.

During my sophomore year, I reached out to Kelly Happe to inquire about the B.A. in women’s studies/M.A. in communication studies Double Dawgs program. With her guidance, I discovered so many parallels between the field of rhetoric and discovered that my background perfectly qualified me to go into this field. Before coming into rhetoric, the role of language in media and literature was something I interrogated regularly in my own work. Because of this tendency, I sought out a field that integrated my interdisciplinary background and communication studies overwhelmingly met this need.

Joshua Williams is a first-generation student, and he credits that to his mother. (Chad Osburn/UGA)

My upbringing also inspired me to take up women’s studies as a major. I was raised by a household of ambitious, hardworking women—who set excellent examples for me.

My father passed away when I was in the fourth grade. This left my mother with unfortunate task of raising my two older sisters and me alone. As she became our primary provider, my mother worked endless hours to make sure we focused solely on our schoolwork as she saw education as a means of perseverance in times of difficulty and sorrow. I saw her selflessness and grit as something to mirror in my own journey. Born and raised in Nigeria, she always expressed how it was vital for my sisters and me to take advantage of the opportunities she lacked in her home country and that our circumstances were only temporary in the grand scheme of things. As a first-generation student, I was fortunate enough to have my mother’s determination to leverage and overcome the darkest times of my life.

What has surprised you about UGA or defied your expectations?
UGA’s countless catalog of degree programs and majors astonished me. Each department at this university boasts an incredible cadre of faculty members who conduct world-renowned work. It would also be remiss of me to not say that I was initially too afraid to approach my professors, but I came to realize that they were all fairly approachable, despite their intimidating credentials.

What are your top UGA highlights?

  • I was awarded the Daniel S. Hart Memorial Scholarship by our philosophy department. The scholarship recognizes competitive philosophy students for their intellectual and philosophical creativity.
  • I had the opportunity to publish a term paper at The Classic Journal, a writing journal published by the Franklin College Writing Intensive Program. Undergoing the process of publication was a very rigorous yet rewarding experience that invigorated my interest in academia. With the help of the journal’s talented group of editors, I was able to piece together a clean draft for publication
  • I served as the student development chair for Black Affairs Council for a year, planning both fun and informative events geared toward UGA’s Black student populace. Working with BAC granted me the opportunity to meet and mentor students with similar backgrounds as me while promoting cross-cultural engagement amongst students of color. Assisting in organizing our two flagship events—Unity Ball and Café Soul—also yielded some unforgettable moments with some unforgettable people.

Who were your mentors in the mentor program? What did you learn?
I met Hillary Brown, the director of communication at the Georgia Museum of Art, through the UGA Mentors Program. Hillary taught me the ins and outs of the museum, granting me an exclusive look at how the museum world functions in its entirety. I can adamantly say her zeal for her work is unmatched by anyone else I’ve ever met, and this was definitely reflected in her unrestricted willingness to mentor me. Hillary also gifted her insights about grad school and assisted me in my own application process.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
Question everything. Always ask “how?” and “why?” With every unexplained phenomenon comes a possible explanation. With every difficult concept comes a possible intervention. Be the one to start those conversations.

Joshua Williams plans to pursue a Ph.D. in communication studies. (Chad Osburn/UGA)

What was your favorite class you’ve taken?
My favorite class I’ve ever taken has to be Understanding Research in Women’s Studies with Josie Leimbach. The course taught me how to engage in ethical research practices, especially when focusing on marginalized communities. While the course emphasized how crucial it is to be cognizant of my identity as a researcher, I also learned how to effectively examine issues of gender and sexuality. This course undoubtedly played a huge role in inspiring me to pursue graduate school as it gave me a plethora of tools to perform important research; I was even pushed to consider the intersections between research and activism.

What are your plans for after graduation?
I plan on pursuing a Ph.D. in communication studies.

Academia was never a pathway I thought I would ever consider but with the remarkable support of our faculty and staff, I saw this as a very possible and feasible pathway for me to partake in. I aspire to become a professor that will foster the next generation of interdisciplinary scholars just as my own professors did.

What is your passion and how are you committed to pursuing it?
My passion is to express the importance of culture as a tool of empowerment and resistance, especially for marginalized communities of color. In my work, I focus on illustrating the interconnected nature of politics, culture, and rhetoric for these communities that yearn for visibility within the dominant public.

I #CommitTo:
Visibility. Not only should we acknowledge our sociocultural differences, but we should use these differences to learn, educate and promote visibility for underrepresented communities hindered by societal factors.